The Buddhist Philosophy of Universal Flux

by Satkari Mookerjee | 1935 | 152,014 words | ISBN-10: 8120807375

A systematic and clear presentation of the philosophy of critical Realism as expounded by Dignaga and his school. The work is divided into two parts arranged into 26 chapters. Part I discusses the Nature of Existence, Logical Difficulties, Theory of Causation, Universals, Doctrine of Apoha, Theory of Soul and Problem of After-life. Part II deals wi...

Chapter XIX - Mano-vijñāna or Mental Perception

In pursuance of the classification of perception by Dignāga, Dharmakīrti has included manovijñāna as a species of perception in his scheme of epistemology. Kumārilla, we are told by the author of the sub-commentary, very severely animadverted on this additional category of perception as proposed by Dignāga and the rather complex definition of manovijñāna in the Nyāyabindu was evidently framed to meet the criticism of Kumārila, who showed that this variety of perception was not only redundant, but also led to preposterous issues. After all, the emendation of Dharmakīrti only satisfied the academic test of the time and even in this emended form, it has very little practical and psychological value. So this variety can be easily dispensed with without prejudice to the theory of perception and it has been actually omitted by Śāntarakṣita in his treatment of perception. This manovijñāna, however, should not be confounded with the mental perception (mānasapratyakṣa) of the Naiyāyikas, which the community of names might suggest. The mānasapratyakṣa of the Buddhist is entirely a different species of knowledge from its namesake in the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika philosophy, the latter being subsumed under self-perception. (svasaṃvedana), a distinct category of Buddhist perception.

But what is the reason that led Dignāga to formulate it as a variety of perception, though logically and psychologically it had little or no value ? We can understand the position of Dharmakīrti, as he could not but feet called upon to meet the challenge of Kumārila and gain an apparent triumph over the hated heretic by vindicating manovijñāna against the latter’s criticism. The reason for this is perhaps to be found in the metaphysical scheme of the Sarvāstivādins, who included manovijñāna and manovijñāna-dhātu in the list of the seventy-five categories (dharmas), into which the whole universe of knowledge and reality was reduced by the Sarvāstivādins.[1] We have it further from the sub-commentary that the conception of manovijñāna as a species of perception was a necessary deduction from the import of a' scriptural text, a Buddhavacana, which declares, “Colour is cognised, O monks, by a twofold cognition, the sense-perception and the mental perception induced by it.”[2] But Kumārila justly pointed out that if this mental perception was cognisant of the selfsame object as the sense-perception, it would be useless as it did not give any new experience. If, on the other hand, it was supposed to be cognisant of the external object without the mediacy of the sense-organ, such distinctions as of blind and deaf from normal persons would become impossible, as even a blind man could ex hypothesi perceive colour by this manovijñāna and privation of sight would be no bar. In order to avoid these contingencies Dharmakīrti observes that this mental perception does not cognise the self-same object of sense-perception, but only the exact facsimile of it which springs into existence immediately in the second moment in the object-series.[3] And this mental perception is brought into being by the cumulative force of (1) the sense-perception, which is its immediate substantive cause (samanantarapratyaya), from which the former derives its conscient character and (2) the objective datum, which leaps into being in the second moment, as an exact facsimile of the object of sense-perception. So mental perception being the joint product of sense-perception and an objective datum, it cannot come into play without the mediacy of the sense-perception and consequently a blind man has no chance of perception of colour, as the visual perception, its antecedent cause, is absent. Nor can it be superfluous, as its object is entirely distinct from that of sense-perception. This mental perception, however, must be supposed to come into play only after the sense-organ has totally ceased to function; otherwise there would be no means of distinguishing one from another.[4] After all is said and done, the question however necessarily arises as to the utility of admitting this additional category of perception in the scheme of knowledge. Dharmakīrti’s ingenuity has saved it from the charge of absurdity, but its superfluity is patent on the face of it. Does this manovijñāna, which has been defended by Dharmakīrti with such a flourish of logic, add an inch to our stock of knowledge of extra-mental reality ? Certainly not, as sense-perception is sufficient for that purpose. Nor is it necessary to reinforce the sense-perception, since there is no warrant for us to suppose that sense-perception, unaided by any extraneous agency, is not competent enough to give us all the knowledge we require of the external objective world. It is on the contrary the most effective and satisfactory instrument for that. The position of the Naiyāyikas, who regard mental perception as a separate category of perception, is, however, intelligible, as mental perception is requisitioned for the apprehension of pleasure and pain, which are in their opinion blind qualities of the self unlike the Buddhist’s theory, which makes them live facts being self-intuitive and self-revealing. Moreover, knowledge according to them reveals only the object of knowledge and for its own revelation and knowledge, it requires another knowledge to comprehend it. And this subjective comprehension is called by them mental perception. But the Buddhist has no necessity for such mental perception, as feelings of pleasure and pain and all consciousness are, in their theory of knowledge, regarded as self-regarding and self-cognisant. The futility of admitting manovijñāna as a separate category of perception was apparent to that astute Buddhist philosopher, Śāntarakṣita, who thought it discreet to slur over it. Kamalaśīla, however, in this connexion observes that mental perception is a well-known piece of doctrine and so a definition of it has not been given in the text.[5] But this is only a tribute to scriptural authority and only proves that it has no epistemological or pragmatic value of its own to claim a separate consideration.

But desperate efforts were made to justify this variety of perception and its function and utility were sought to be proved beyond cavil. There were some thinkers who maintained that this mental perception was to be postulated for making the rise of vikalpa (the interpretative conceptual thought) a possible event. Sense-perception, belonging as it is to a different category of experience, cannot be supposed to have generative efficiency in regard to conceptual thought, which, being a purely intellectual fact, would require, according to the law of homogeneity of cause and effect, as its generative cause, another purely intellectual entity. Thus, manovijñāna, notwithstanding its inefficiency in regard to acquisition of fresh knowledge, has an important part to play as an intermediary between the indeterminate sense-perception and the determinate interpretative knowledge which makes selective activity possible. But this is an idle hypothesis, as the author of the sub-commentary observes, since sense-perception is alone competent to generate such knowledge. The very validity of sense-perception depends on this generative efficiency of itself and it can be regarded as an efficient cause of knowledge only if it exercises a function, and this functioning is nothing but the generation of conceptual knowledge itself. If you suppose a tertium quid between the two cognitions, you will only make the indeterminate sense-perception an inefficient, abortive fact, which is absurd.[6] But the apologia of the sub-commentary, too, is equally a hopeless failure. The author admits that this mental perception has no service for us; but he goes on to say that this is unquestionably of use to Yogins, who are enabled to discourse on mystic matters by comprehending these truths in the mental perception.[7] But this, too, is not convincing enough as for the comprehension of such truths the supersensuous mystic perception of the Yogin, which has been postulated as a separate category of perception, is sufficient in itself. Dharmottara seems to offer the key to the solution of this tangle by observing that mental perception is an accepted doctrine for which there is no logical warrant. A definition has been proposed in the text only to show that it would be free from logical difficulties, if it conforms to the definition.[8] It is clear, therefore, that manovijñam has no epistemological importance and can be jettisoned without harm. The inclusion of it in the scheme of perception is made only in deference to scriptual authority and not for any logical or epistemological necessity.


The causal factors in perception

Before we proceed to discuss the next variety of perception, viz., svasaṃvedana, we feel it necessary that something should be said about the causes and conditions of perception, as conceived and designated by the Sautrāntikas. We had occasion to speak of samanantara-pratyaya in connexion with manovijñāna and unless there is a clear conception of samantarapratyaya or of all pratyayas for the matter of that, the understanding of the theory of perception will of necessity remain incomplete. We hope the apology is sufficient for our embarking upon a consideration of this topic, which would otherwise appear as irrelevant in the scheme of epistemological problems. We however abstain from giving a detailed examination of the theory of Pratītyāsamutpāda (the Buddhist theory of causation, literally, of dependent or contingent origination)—a theory, which in its richness of details, in its various applications and abstruse metaphysical character, will remain for ever an object of admiration as a triumphal monument of Buddhistic dialectic. In the present context we shall however be content with giving a brief exposition of the nature of the different pratyayas, so far as their bearing upon the psychology of perception demands.

The Sautrāntikas have postulated four different causal factors, which are necessary to produce perceptual cognition. No one single cause can give rise to this cognition and for this the combination of all the four causes is a conditio sine qua non. This combination of all the causal factors, which invariably and immediately eventuates in the production of the effect concerned, has been termed sāmagrī (the entire causal complex) in the Buddhist and in the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika system of philosophy. These four causes are named and explained as following:—

(1) Ālambanapratyaya—the object of perception is termed the ālambanapratyaya or the basal cause, which is the objective basis of knowledge. Thus red, blue, pen and the like are the instances in question. These are responsible for the variation of contents of knowledge and are objectively referred to.

(2) Samanantarapratyaya is the immediate antecedent in a particular series (santāna), which is similar in every respect to the effect, the consequent entity and which disappears immediately leaving behind a legacy of its own character in the consequent (samaś cā’sāv anantaraś ce’ti). The samanantara-pratyaya of a particular cognition is the immediate cognition preceding it, which communicates its cognitive character to its immediately succeeding cognition. It is different from the content of the cognition, which is its ālambana, in this that the character of the samanantarapratyaya is uniform, whereas the content is variable. It can be best illustrated by a case of mental perception (manovijñāna), the samanantarapratyaya of which is the sense-perception (indriyavijñāna), which is responsible for the cognitive character of the former—a quality which is common to both.

Dharmottara has expounded this particular pratyaya in the following language:

“It is similar or co-ordinate in respect of its cognitive quality (jñānatva) and is the immediate precedent (anantara), as there is nothing intervening and is termed the pratyaya, as it is the cause thereof.”[9]

So manovijñāna is the joint product of sense-perception as its immediate co-ordinate cause and of an auxiliary cause, which is, in this instance, the immediate duplicate of the object of sense-perception, leaping into existence in the second moment in the series concerned.

(3) The third pratyaya is the auxiliary cause or the set of auxiliaries, as the case may be (sahakāripratyaya). The auxiliary causes are rather co-operative factors, all acting together towards a common effect and are not to be understood in the Buddhist theory of causal operation in the sense of reciprocally helpful factors, as the causal factors are all momentary and as such can neither be the generators nor receivers of supplementation to be afforded by such help.[10] Thus, light, attention, etc., are the co-operating causes of sense-perception, as light reveals the object in a clear perspective and attention makes the cognition possible. As these sets of causal factors cannot be subsumed under any other category, they are treated as a distinct causal category sui generis.

(4) The fourth and the last causal category is the adhipatipratyaya, the dominating or determinative cause. The other causal factors, to wit, the object, light, attention and the immediate consciousness (the antecedent cause) though present in full, cannot determine the specific character of the perceptual experience to follow. They are sufficient to account for the production of perceptual experience as such, colourless and undifferentiated in itself. But the specific character of the perceptual knowledge, in other words, the specific objects to be cognised, can be determined by the sense-organ in operation. Thus, the organ of sight is the determining factor in the perception of form and colour and the auditory organ in that of sound. The perceptual character is the common feature and the variable contents of perceptual knowledge are determined by the extra-mental reality. But the particular character of the object and the consequential specification of the perceptual experience can therefore be determined by the action of sense-organs alone. This determining factor is called the adhipatipratyaya, the dominating cause, as in ordinary language all that determines or regulates is said to be the dominant factor.[11]

Footnotes and references:


Vide Yamakami Sogen’s ‘Systems of Buddhist Thoughts.’ P.152 and Prof. Stcherbatsky’s ‘Central Conception of Buddhism,’ p, 97 and p. 100.


dvābhyāṃ bhikṣavo rūpaṃ dṛśyate cakṣurvijñānena tadākṛṣṭena manovijñānene’ti.  
      N.B. T.T., p. 26.


tataś cāntara prabiṣiddhe samānajātīyo dvitīyakṣaṇabhāvy upādeyakṣaṇa indriyavijñānaviṣayasya gṛhyate tathā ca satī’ndriyajñānaviṣayakṣaṇād uttarakṣana ekasantānāntarabhūto gṛhītaḥ.
      N.B.T., p. 13.


yadā ce 'ndriyavijñānaviṣayopādeyabhūtaḥ kṣaṇo gṛhītas tade’ndriyajñānenā’gṛhītasya viṣayāntarasya grahaṇād andhabadhirādyabhāvaprasaṅgo nirastaḥ. etac ca manovijñānam uparatavyāpāre cakṣuṣi pratyakṣam iṣyate. vyāpāravati tu cakṣuṣi yad rūpajñānam tat sarvaṃ cakṣurāśritam eva, itarathā cakṣurāśritatvānupapattiḥ kasyacid api vijñānasya.
      N.B.T., p. 13.


siddhāntaprasiddhatvān mānasasyā’tra na lakṣaṇaṃ kṛtam.
      T S.P., P. 96, under śl. 1330.


kiñ ce’ndriyavijñānasya kathaṃ prāmāṇyaṃ, yadi svavyāpāraṃ karoti. svavyāpāras’tu svasmin vikalpotpādakatyaṃ nāma. tataś ca vijātīyād api vikalpasyo’dayād iti yatkiñcid etat.
      N.B. T.T., p. 31,


na mānasapratyakṣeṇā’smadvidhānām arthakriyāvāptir bhavati, api tu vītarāgādeḥ. te ca tasmin kṣaṇe mānase co’padarśitaṃ viṣayaṃ pratipadya dharmadeśanādikām arthakriyām āsādayantī’ty anavadyam.
      N.B. T.T., p. 29.


etac ca siddhāntaprasiddhaṃ mānasapratyakṣam, na tv asya prasādhakam asti pramāṇam. evaṃjātīyakaṃ tad yadi syān na kaścid doṣaḥ syād iti vaktuṃ lakṣaṇam ākhyātam asye’iti. 
      N.B.T., pp. 13-14.


samaś cā’sau jñānatvena, anantaraś cā’sāv avyavahitatvena, sa cā’sau pratyayaś ca hetutvāt samanantarapratyayaḥ.
      N.B.T., p. 13.


divividhaś ca sahakārī, parasparopakāry ekakāryakārī ca. iha ca kṣaṇike vastuny atiśayādhānāyogād ekakāryakāritvena sahakārī gṛhyate.
      N. B. T., p. 13.


loke niyāmakasyā’dhipatitvopalambhāt.
      S. D. S., Bauddhadarśana, p. 39.

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